A Near Miss and Rare Opportunity

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Today, a small asteroid, 2014RC, passed within about a tenth of the moon’s distance from Earth. This asteroid was only discovered a week ago. There was no danger, according to experts, the asteroid did not enter our atmosphere but at its closest it will be about 25,000 miles away. This distance is nearly the same distance as geosynchronous weather and communication satellites. Asteroid 2014 RC will be roughly over New Zealand when it’s closest. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about 60 feet (20 meters) in size. Researchers say that this close approach creates a unique opportunity for them to observe and learn more about asteroids.

Do you ever wonder what might have happened if this asteroid had come closer and actually entered our atmosphere? On February 15, 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor streaked across the Russian sky. This asteroid was approximately as large as 2014RC. Eyewitnesses stated that the Russian asteroid was brighter than the sun as it streaked across the sky. They also felt intense heat from the fireball. Coming within approximately 15 miles of Earth, the Chelyabinsk meteor created a shock wave that broke windows in over 7000 buildings in six different Russian cities.

So just how close would today’s asteroid have to come to enter our atmosphere? To cause a streak in the sky like the Chelyabinsk meteor, the asteroid would have to encounter the lower part of Earth’s atmosphere. This part of the atmosphere, the troposphere, is where most of our weather happens. This layer of atmosphere is within about 7 miles of Earth’s surface. The outer atmosphere, the stratosphere, goes up only to about 29 miles. The 2014EC meteor passed by at approximately 25,000 miles. The orbit of this meteor will bring it back to our neighborhood in the future with another relatively close approach to Earth on September 8-9, 2115.

It is not uncommon for meteors to find their way into our vicinity. Earlier in 2014, there were two other meteors that passed by Earth at a closer distance than today’s meteor. This is a fascinating and exciting field of work to explore if you are interested in studying the universe. For those who appreciate the constellations and our universe in general, you might want to consider checking out our amazing Mova Globe collection. Our constellation globe is a dramatic and beautiful addition to any office or home.

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